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Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang Hardcover – May 19, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A rare first-person account of crisis politics at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party.”
—Erik Eckholm, The New York Times

“Until the appearance of this posthumous work, not a single voice of dissent had ever emerged from the [Chinese Communist] party’s inner circle . . .  Fascinating.”
The Economist

“Zhao speaks from beyond the grave . . . the up-close-and-personal tone [of the book] stands out. Scholars will mine Prisoner of the State for historical nuances.”
—Perry Link, coeditor of The Tiananmen Papers

“[T]his book will be of special importance to anyone interested in what happened during the spring of 1989, culminating in the Tiananmen killings of June 3 and 4.”
—Jonathan Mirsky, The New York Review of Books
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

ZHAO ZIYANG was the Premier of China from 1983 until 1987 when he became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, a position he held until 1989 when he was deposed and put under house arrest until his death in 2005.

Adi Ignatius is an American journalist who covered China for The Wall Street Journal during the Zhao Ziyang era. He is currently editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review.

Bao Pu, a political commentator and veteran human rights activist, is a publisher and editor of New Century Press in Hong Kong.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition first Printing edition (May 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439149380
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439149386
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Tanstaafl VINE VOICE on May 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I actually read the book before writing this review - and this is a review only of this book and is not any kind of statement about the PRC or the events of 1989.

This is a fascinating book, easily worth the five stars, if only because it is unique. The dramatic story behind its being published seems more movie script than true story.

The story of the tapes does almost defy belief. He not only secretly made them, recording over his grandchildren's tapes, but he also made copies of them. These copies were passed out to his guests piecemeal without any of them knowing who else had one of the tapes. Then the masters were placed with the grandchildren's toys and he told no one. Was he hoping someone would discover them? The only identifying marks he made on the tapes were small numbers. Then, after his death they were "discovered". And - the rest of the story is history. That is truly amazing.

What is also amazing is that he either had been squirreling away copies of documents and notes of conversations at his home or he had access to them even while under house arrest. The amount of detail (including quotes) of events more than a decade old is astounding.

The comments I below are not against this book but to comment on much of what seems to be spin by Zhao Ziyang (the key word is "seems").

This is not a "memoir" - but rather a recounting of the events leading up to and following his removal from all office in the PRC. Was he a scapegoat for the Tiananmen disaster? Probably. Was he illegally and unfairly treated? Very likely. Was he, as he makes out, innocent of any culpability in what took place? Probably not.
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Format: Hardcover
Zhao Ziyang was Premier of the People's Republic of China from 1980-1987, and General Secretary of the Communist Party from 1987-1989. Zhao appears to have been the architect of economic reform, though he acknowledges that without Deng's support it could not proceed. At the height of the Tienanmen Square protests in 1989 Zhao tried to stop the growing confrontation and instead was removed from power and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. Zhao utilized the time to produce a written and recorded memoir - those materials provide the foundation for "Prisoner of the State." The book includes details of the crackdown, as well as the power ploys used among China's leaders, and the thinking behind their economic reforms.

The rationale behind China's economic reforms is particularly interesting. They began in an environment thick with ideological struggles, and sometimes hamstrung by missteps (eg. prosecutions of early innovators, overly one-sided demands and limits on foreign investment).

Zhao's initial interest in economic reform derived from comparing 1980 vs. 1952 statistics (the latter was the year most agreed the economy was fully recovered from the civil war). During the time span, industrial output increased by 8.1X, GDP by 4.2X, and industrial fixed assets by 26X, vs. an average consumption increase of only 2X.

Another motivator for change was that people were beginning to ask "What exactly is the advantage of socialism?" Before "liberation," eg. Shanghai was a highly developed metropolis, more advanced than Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. But after a couple of decades of socialism, Shanghai had become run-down and fallen behind.
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Format: Hardcover
Anyone who has any interest in contemporary Chinese history or current state of China should read it. Even those who have no interest in China can benefit from reading this book (I will explain this later). I received the book as a gift when I was debating whether I should wait for its Chinese version, and I was not supposed to have time to read it, but once I started reading it, I could not stop. Once I finished reading it, I could not help starting writing this review. Actually the Chinese version came out in Hong Kong on the day when I started reading this book, and all of its 14,000 copies were sold out in two hours.

It is very important to keep in mind what this book is not. It is not an autobiography. It is not a scholarly work trying to provide a complete account of certain historic events. It is primarily a person's memoir about two very important series of events of modern China - the June 4th incident and the economic reforms. The memoir was recorded secretly by a person under house arrest with little means to research.

Since many people use autobiographies and memoirs to defend, praise themselves by twisting facts, telling partial truth or even tell outright lies, one cannot help asking whether this book falls into this category. My answer is firmly no. I draw this conclusion based on the following:
1.Everything in the book is consistent with various reports published by media that are not Chinese government mouthpiece, or anecdotes in the past two decades. In other words, it is very easy to find plenty of evidence to support the stories told in the memoir.
2.A common way to let people make the judgment on any controversy is letting two sides present their cases.
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